Pickled fennel is a wonderful addition to any plate of cured meats, or on its own as an appetizer or, with some bread or crackers, as a snack.
Pickling is an excellent way to make use of extra fennel bulbs you have in the garden, or if your eyes were larger than your stomach when you visited the market.
There are two ways to go about this recipe: You can make a quick pickle, or you can water-bath can your pickled fennel to keep the jars at room temperature. Either is good, but the fennel stays crunchier with the quick pickle — but, you’ll need to keep them refrigerated.
Either way, you need clean canning jars, and if you are canning, unused lids. If you are, before you even start this recipe you should get your canner ready by putting down some kind of rack on the bottom of a pot large enough to hold your jars — a metal vegetable steamer works well — then filling the pot with water to cover the jars. Start this boiling first; it takes a while.
My recipe differs from many others by the addition of a little vanilla. I know it sounds weird, but vanilla + a sweet and sour pickling mixture + fennel really shines. You’ll see.
If you want to punch up the anise flavors, add fennel seeds, star anise or anise seeds when you are boiling the pickling mixture initially.
Once sealed with this water-bath method, pickled fennel will keep on the shelf for a year. If you don’t want to seal it, your pickles will keep several months in the fridge. Either way, wait a week before eating them to let the flavors sink in.
- 2 large fennel bulbs, or 3 medium ones
- 2 of the nicest fronds from the bulbs
- 3 1-inch slices of lemon zest, with all the white pith removed
- 1 1/2 cups vanilla sugar (or the same amount of sugar with 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract added)
- 1 tablespoon fennel or anise seeds (optional)
- 3 tablespoons salt
- 3 cups white wine vinegar, or cider vinegar
- Cut the fennel bulbs into large chunks. Make them whatever size you want, but trim any edges that are very thin — and remember people will eat these by the piece, so cut accordingly.
- Bring the sugar, salt and vinegar to a boil. Add the fennel or anise seeds, if using. The mixture should be tasty. If it is too sour, you can add a little water, but not more than 1/2 cup. Add the lemon zest. Once the canner is boiling, add the fennel pieces to the vinegar mixture, cover it and turn off the heat. Let it steep for 5 minutes.
- In the clean jar, wrap the fennel fronds into the bottom so they surround it like a nest. Pack in the fennel pieces on top of the fronds; you want the fennel to come up only to the fill line on the jar (roughly the base of the neck). Pour in the vinegar mixture slowly, rotating the jar on the countertop to release air bubbles. Pour enough to cover the fennel by at least a 1/2 inch. Use a butter knife or chopstick to remove any stray air bubbles.
- Seal the jar and process in the canner (water should be between 200°F and boiling) for 15 minutes. Let it stand to cool on a rack.